Have you ever had a sinking feeling that there’s a bigger problem lurking around the corner?
Maybe you have noticed drops of oil on your garage floor or a water stain forming on your ceiling. These types of scenarios are examples of small symptoms that reveal much deeper problems beneath the surface.
Whether they are the result of unintentional oversights or reveal some level of negligence on our part, left unaddressed you can be certain that the cost and collateral damage will be far greater than if you confront the issue head on.
In recent decades the focus in the church has shifted away from intentional efforts to invite believers to consider vocational ministry as a calling. As a result, there’s a leadership famine in our local churches.
There are a variety of factors that have contributed to this trend, but perhaps the greatest obstacle we face is simply an unintended one. Our desire to mobilize the church, emphasize spiritual community and authorize every member to live on mission, has essentially neutralized a call to vocational ministry.
It is important for us to affirm that, indeed, in the church there is no spiritual “varsity” team of leaders and “junior varsity” team of laity. God has called all believers to serve the local church and fulfill the Great Commission. In this sense, there is a “universal calling” for all believers to serve the Lord and actively participate in his mission.
So-called “secular” vocations are intended by God to be missional platforms in our culture and communities. In fact, these vocational callings are an essential part of the gospel mission being accomplished.
At the same time, we must be careful that we do not undermine the ministerial calling of some in a well-intended (and biblically accurate) effort to affirm the value of every believer in God’s kingdom.
While there is a “universal calling” for all believers, there is also a “unique calling” for each individual disciple. When we consider the missional heart of our heavenly Father and the size of the task at hand, we can recognize the need for all believers, regardless of their vocational capacity, to leverage their unique calling for the cause of Christ.
If we are going to commit ourselves to “calling out the called,” we must also consider some practical ways we can do this in our ministries that are both biblically sound and personally responsible. It starts with a patient mindset and a humble faith that pursues more of a climate change in our ministries rather than creating lightning-strike moments.
Calling should simply become a concept that is regularly talked about in our ministry in a variety of ways. Here are some examples.
1. Extend invitations
Perhaps the most obvious way that we can cultivate this type of “calling culture” is to regularly include a ministerial calling and its possibility as part of our invitations for response. If our listeners are not aware or do not know that it is an option to prayerfully consider, it is more difficult for them to discern this type of calling as part of God’s will for their lives.
2. Share testimonies
Personal testimonies of those who have been called into vocational ministry can help our people disarm their fears and clarify their understanding to consider what full-time ministry service really involves. Our own experience of discerning and answering God’s call can be used by the Lord to encourage our people to consider their calling.
3. Celebrate the church
Sometimes we can also be guilty of bemoaning our ministry responsibilities or complaining about relational dynamics in the church. Instead, we should model a love for the church as the body and bride of Christ that is positive, affirming and exhibits gratitude for the privilege of serving the Lord in a ministry capacity.
4. Provide opportunities
A primary element of discerning a call to ministry involves discovering your spiritual passions and gifts through service opportunities. We must encourage, enable and empower others to do the work of the ministry. As people begin to explore, exercise and employ their spiritual gifts, they may also begin to discern God’s calling on their lives to serve in a similar vocational capacity.
5. Train leaders
As we cultivate a ministry environment that cooperates with the Spirit in “calling out the called,” we must be prepared to mentor and invest in those who discern a call to vocational ministry. Nothing will substitute for your personal involvement in their lives, and in many ways the discipleship process is identical to what we would do for every follower of Christ.
By integrating some of these principles and practices into our ministries we can help facilitate healthy conversations with our people that can lead to prayerful consideration about their potential ministerial calling.
Scott Pace serves as provost, associate professor of pastoral ministry and preaching, and dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest. He has served in pastoral ministry in a variety of capacities in three states, and is the co-author, with Shane Pruitt, of the book “Calling Out the Called.” This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of the Biblical Recorder magazine.